AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXV , No. 1, Spring 2003

 

New Information on an Old Photo

Niels Bohr skiing uphill.
click to see a larger version.

This photo of Niels Bohr has often been reproduced. Recently we heard from University of Colorado physicist Albert Bartlett (well-known for his work in environmental protection and education among other areas) who filled us in on the story behind the picture:

The photo [Al writes] shows Bohr on “Sawyer’s Hill,” which was the original ski hill at Los Alamos. In the photo, he is using his ski poles to climb uphill to the left. I am 90% sure that this photo was taken by John P. Miller of Los Alamos. John and I worked in adjacent laboratories in the chemistry building.... John was a great outdoors person and did lots of hiking and skiing.

Sawyer’s Hill was several miles west of the west gate at Los Alamos. The hill was prepared for skiing by volunteers, and I was one of a group of volunteers who went there in the summer and fall on Sundays to cut trees and clear brush. A couple of enterprising GIs lashed together an automobile engine and some hardware to drive a very primitive rope tow. In the background, over Bohr’s head, you can see the return rope going down the slope.

The rope tow was quite irregular in its operation and it frequently broke down. When it was down, most of the skiers sat around in the sun and moaned about their inability to ski because the tow was down. Bohr never complained. He just pointed his skis up the hill, dug in his poles and went to the top on his own. Then he skied down. He did this several times.... The photo was probably taken during the time the rope tow was not operating. You see very few other people on the slope, which would have been crowded had the tow been in operation.... I remember being so struck by all of the younger people who would not ski when the tow was not operating while the older Niels Bohr climbed the hill on his own in order to continue his skiing.


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